The week (September 22): Nobody asked me, but…

Echoing the late, great Jimmy Cannon: Nobody asked me, but…

IF RICHARD ARMITAGE, former Undersecretary of State, did threaten Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf in 2001 that the U.S. would bomb Pakistan “back to the Stone Age” if it didn’t cooperate in the war against terrorism after 9/11, was he consciously drawing on Gen. Curtis E. LeMay’s infamous proposed solution to the Vietnam War (“‘bomb them back into the Stone Age.”)? Not surprisingly, Armitage denies he made the threat.

For his part, LeMay later claimed that the Stone Age suggestion—which appeared in his 1965 autobiography ”Mission With LeMay”—had been inserted by his collaborator, historian MacKinlay Kantor, without LeMay’sknowledge (but never offered any proof of his own innocence). LeMay also ran for Vice President on George Wallace’s American Independent Party ticket in 1968 (where he suggested that nuclear weapons should remain an option in Vietnam). No wonder that the character of General Buck Turgidson of “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” was thought to be based on “Bombs Away” LeMay.

BRENDAN NYHAN WORE OUT his welcome at The American Prospect‘s media criticism blog, he says, because he “slammed two liberal blogs for using an airline employee’s suicide after 9/11 to take a cheap shot at President Bush.” Nyhan adds in a post on Time‘s PoliticalBite that he quit after “Sam Rosenfeld, the magazine’s online editor, asked that I focus my blogging on conservative targets.”

Nyhan asks plaintively: “…isn’t open and honest debate a value that liberals prize?” He quotes from an emailed defense offered by TAP editor Michael Tomasky: “The Prospect has always opposed a ‘pox on both houses’ posture, and that’s what we came to believe you were doing.”

Nyhan suggests that The American Prospect may have been swayed by another consideration—one perhaps more commercial in nature:

One important factor shaping TAP’s decision may have been the popularity of Democratic bloggers like Atrios, who pump out a stream of pre-filtered news and commentary. Before the rise of online competition, opinion magazines had some freedom to be idiosyncratic and less partisan than their readers. The initial incarnation of the Prospect, for example, had a thoughtful, academic tone. But the availability of more points of view online (while laudable in many ways) has paradoxically increased the pressure on ideological publications to pander to readers, who have the option of seeking out exclusively partisan blogs instead.

Right-of-center publications—on or off the Web—aren’t any more welcoming to independent or ideologically suspect views, from what I can see. Many partisans don’t want the facts to get in the way of their deeply held opinions.

Nyhan continues to blog—independently—at

ANDY GARCIA’S DEEPLY PERSONAL film, “The Lost City,” about the trials and tribulations of a Cuban family after the Revolution is now available on DVD and is definitely worth the rental fee (for the wonderful soundtrack music alone!) The movie also features the luminous Inés Sastre as Garcia’s love interest, and two strange performances by Bill Murray and Dustin Hoffman. It took Garcia nearly two decades to bring his vision to the screen.

Let’s hope that after Castro’s death and the inevitable return of freedom to Cuba, Gracia follows with a sequel capturing the experience of exiled Cubans returning to their beloved island (and confronting the gap between memory and reality).

IF PETE ROSE AND JOSE CANSECO disappeared from the public eye, they would make an awful lot of baseball fans quite happy. They violate soul singer Bobby Womack’s sage advice: “Leave them wanting more and you know they’ll call you back.”

VOLKSWAGEN CONTINUES TO RUN those television commercials where a peaceful drive in a Jetta or Passat is shockingly interrupted by a violent air-bag-popping accident. Sorry, but the ads are creepy. The shock value wears off, I’m afraid, on second viewing, just as the high school Driver Education class crash videos do—and you wonder whether Volkswagen realizes that lots of viewers (like me) dislike have their emotions manipulated.

PROVING THAT ELECTORAL INCOMPETENCE is bipartisan, the latest reports of uncounted votes, polling machine breakdowns and Election Day chaos come from heavily Democratic Maryland and Massachusetts.

THINK CURRENT DISDAIN FOR CONGRESS is widespread (as the latest opinion surveys show)? Mark Twain once sneered: “Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.”

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Copyright © 2006 Jefferson Flanders
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9/11 conspiracy theories: time for truth

Two cheers for the University of New Hampshire for affirming the principle of academic freedom and resisting calls to dismiss, discipline, or curb the teaching of psychology professor William Woodward, an academic who believes that the September 11, 2001 terrorists attacks were orchestrated by the U.S. government.

Woodward’s discussion of those controversial views in his class led some prominent New Hampshire politicians, including the Governor, John Lynch (who termed Woodward’s opinions “crazy”) and U.S. Senator Judd Gregg, to call for his dismissal.

The UNH administration reviewed Woodward’s teaching practices, looked at course materials and student evaluations, and concluded it should not take action. An Iraq war veteran in Woodward’s class told reporters that Woodward had not tried to indoctrinate his students (nor, apparently, was the professor particularly successful in convincing any of students that he was right).

Roger Bowen, general secretary of the American Association of University Professors, defended Woodward (in an email to Inside Higher Ed), making the traditionalists’ case for academic freedom:

“So long as the faculty member teaches within his or her discipline and is careful to teach the truth as set by the highest standards of scholarship within their discipline, they and their universities should not be subjected to political intrusions. This rule applies even in highly charged times like today. Professors outside the classroom should speak truth to power as their conscience dictates and inside the classroom they should speak the truths of their discipline.”

Bowen has it more or less right—although you have to strain a bit to fit 9/11 conspiracy theories into the “truths of their discipline” when that discipline is psychology (unless, perhaps, you are considering the mental health of conspiracy theorists). By all accounts Woodward has made only passing references to his 9/11 opinions in the classroom, noted that they are controversial, and has not let them dominate his teaching. (Woodward has been quoted as saying he hopes to teach a new class that would explore September 11th “in psychological terms.”)

UNH would deserve a third cheer if, at the same time it backs Woodward, it confronted the 9/11 conspiracy question head-on by sponsoring lectures, seminars and teach-ins to provide students with the facts. It’s a process that would expose the entire 9/11 “inside job” argument as baseless. A campus-wide discussion could enhance student’s critical thinking skills—they would learn in short order how flimsy the claims of the conspiracy buffs are and how the evidence doesn’t support them.

An unecessary exercise? Unfortunately, no. A shockingly high number of Americans apparently do not believe the bipartisan 9/11 Commission’s conclusions that Osama bin Laden and al-Quaida bear responsibility for the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A Scripps Howard/Ohio University poll in early August found that “more than a third of the American public suspects that federal officials assisted in the 9/11 terrorist attacks or took no action to stop them so the United States could go to war in the Middle East.” If the poll is even directionally correct, that would suggest one in three UNH students might harbor the same beliefs.

UNH is not the only college campus where such views are held—the so-called Scholars for 9/11 Truth (of which Woodward is a member) claim some 75 of the group’s 300 members have “academic affiliations.” Kevin Barrett, an adjunct instructor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, caused a similar uproar with his desire to teach the “Truth about 9/11” to his introductory class on Islam.

What will any dispassionate review of the facts about 9/11—on campus or off—show? Rather than a conspiracy, the voluminous record suggests incompetence and miscommunication on the part of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, sloppiness and confusion by the air defense and air traffic control systems, and a false sense of invulnerability to terror attacks held at every level of government.

The notion that the World Trade Center buildings were rigged with explosives, or that the Pentagon was hit by a cruise missile, are “theories” that have been throughly discredited—look no further for refutation than the Federal Emergency Management Agency or National Institute of Standards and Technology’s reports on the collapse of the WTC buildings, or the eyewitness testimony of first responders at the Pentagon.

There are, fortunately, resources and documents to help set the record straight. The U.S. State Department has posted web pages refuting most of the common conspiracy theories, and a Popular Mechanics investigation debunking the 16 most persistent conspiracy theories has been expanded into a book, Debunking 9/11 Myths: Why Conspiracy Theories Can’t Stand Up to the Facts, which includes interviews with some 600 experts (and eyewitnesses). Two journalists, David Corn of the Nation, and Salon’s Farhad Manjoo, have been leaders in fact-based reporting on the topic.

Of course this may not matter to Scholars for 9/11 Truth or others promoting the “U.S. government false flag operation” meme—it has become a matter of faith that the attacks were “an inside job,” and any evidence to the contrary is regarded as fabricated by the conspiracists. As the historian Richard Hofstadter pointed out in his essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics”, (a reflection prompted by the Age of McCarthy), those who fabricate convoluted conspiracy theories will not let the facts get in the way; their fantasy world becomes satisfyingly coherent, “since it leaves no room for mistakes, failures, or ambiguities.”

I would imagine that most American university presidents and deans clearly recognize the intellectual shakiness of the 9/11 conspiracy movement, but figure that it will never take root on college campuses. They may think that engaging in debate legitimizes the conspiracy fringe. That both underestimates the staying power of “the Paranoid Style”—to date there’s been no let-up in the campaign to rewrite the history of 9/11—and cedes the field to those who shown more interest in attacking the Bush administration than in finding the truth.

When a third of American adults question whether their government has been involved in a massive conspiracy and cover-up—a notion unsupported by any credible evidence—it’s clear that dignified silence or ignoring the question isn’t going to work. America’s higher education leadership share in the duty to, in George Orwell’s words, “restate the obvious.” Those in the academy should take every opportunity to capitalize on this “teachable moment” on their campuses and encourage truth-telling about 9/11 sooner rather than later.

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Copyright © 2006 Jefferson Flanders
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The week (July 21st): Nobody asked me, but…

Once more, with a tip of the cap to New York’s great newspaper columnist Jimmy Cannon, nobody asked me, but…

APPLE SHOULD RETHINK THE GENIUS BAR branding in their retail outlets. What is a Genius Bar, you ask? It is a computer repair service desk with a New Age name. The technicians carry the title of Mac Genius and wear trendy black tee shirts and serve customers (who can perch on stools) from behind a long, wooden desk (the Genius Bar). You can make an appointment on the web, in advance, to meet with a Mac Genius.

The downside of this? When your Mac Genius isn’t such a genius in handling your complaint, and there’s that temptation to make snide, wise-guy comments (“If you’re a Mac Genius, what are the Mac Dummies like?”) My assigned Mac Genius finally fixed the problem with my son’s iMac after two trips to the store. For what it’s worth, I observed many frustrated iPod owners grousing about batteries and screens on their sleek little music devices, apparently now a common challenge for the Mac Genii to confront.

And lurking in the shadows, the Evil Empire of Microsoft…where plans for an iPod-like device move inexorably ahead.

ONCE AGAIN, CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS offers a brilliantly contrarian read of events in his Slate piece, “The End of the Affair: Novak Exonerates the Bushies in the Plame Case.” Hitchens argues:

Robert Novak’s July 12 column and his appearance on Meet the Press Sunday night have dissolved any remaining doubt about the mad theory that the Bush administration “outed” Ms. Valerie Plame as revenge for her husband’s refusal to confirm the report by British intelligence that Iraqi officials had visited Niger in search of uranium.

Hitchens promises that he will publish “more material” to prove that “that the original British intelligence on the Niger connection was genuine, and that Wilson missed it.”

On this same topic, attorneys Bruce W. Sanford and Bruce D. Brown restated the obvious in the Washington Post: leak investigations are a waste of time. If only the editorial page editors of the Post and New York Times had agreed at the start of the Plame episode on this sensible position and had not called for a leak probe, reporters Matt Cooper and Judith Miller might have avoided jail time.

BLOGS PROMOTE FREE SPEECH in repressive regimes” reads the headline on The Editors Weblog (published by the World Editors Forum). The late June post notes how blogging offers an outlet for social and political criticism in countries like Saudi Arabia and China. It quotes the optimistic assessment of New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof (“With the Internet, China is developing for the first time in 4,000 years of history a powerful independent institution that offers checks and balances on the emperors.”) and while not characterizing the blogs as journalism suggests that they will eventually help to “bring down repressive regimes.”

I’m not as sanguine. One of Kristof’s points is that in the future China’s 30,000 Web censors/monitors won’t be able to control the millions of Chinese Internet users (currently estimated at 120 million), yet advances in supercomputing and intelligent software may make the monitoring of Web expression much simpler and suppression easier. I think prospects for a more benign form of governance in China rest more on pressure from Western trading partners for the rule of law and free expression, which is why American companies must make clear their support of those values when doing business in the People’s Republic.

The blogosphere’s freedom unsettles even democratic governments. India shut down access for some bloggers in the aftermath of the Mumbai bombings, much to the legitimate dismay of free speech advocates.

THE WEB IS QUITE DEMOCRATIC: where else could fans of former Del Amitri member Justin Currie get a chance to directly “friend” him other than Currie can be found at (where you can hear some great new Currie songs, including “What is Love For” and “Out of My Control”).

FORMER CIA VETERAN MICHAEL A. SCHEUER, chief of the agency’s Osama bin Laden unit at the Counterterrorist Center, authored a very tough op-ed in the Washington Times in advance of ABC’s mini-series based on former “terrorism czar” Richard Clarke’s memoir, “Against All Enemies.” Scheuer suggests the September 11 Commission whitewashed the failure of American intelligence agencies pre-9/11, reserving his harshest criticism for President Bill Clinton and colleagues.

Mr. Clarke’s book is also a crucial complement to the September 11 panel’s failure to condemn Mr. Clinton’s failure to capture or kill bin Laden on any of the eight to 10 chances afforded by CIA reporting. Mr. Clarke never mentions that President Bush had no chances to kill bin Laden before September 11 and leaves readers with the false impression that he, Mr. Clinton and Mr. Clinton’s national security adviser, Sandy Berger, did their best to end the bin Laden threat. That trio, in my view, abetted al Qaeda, and if the September 11 families were smart they would focus on the dereliction of Dick, Bill and Sandy and not the antics of convicted September 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui.

Scheuer closes with even harsher words for Clarke, Clinton, and Berger; he says he fears that “the reality that Bill, Dick and Sandy helped to push Americans out of the windows of the World Trade Center on that September morning will be buried in miles of fantasy-filled celluloid.”

This is clearly transcends the bounds of decency: Scheuer may believe that Clinton Administration dithering played a part in 9/11, it is another thing to personalize the debate in such a nasty and sneering way (referring to his three targets dismissively by their first name). No matter how bitter Scheuer may be about 9/11, to suggest that Clinton or other officials are responsible for Americans jumping out of the WTC windows is quite simply wrong.

A “TRUMAN-KENNEDY-CLINTON DEMOCRAT” is the label Senator Joe Lieberman assigns himself, leads naturally to this question: can a self-described centrist survive in today’s Democratic Party? The New Republic headline “Cuppa Joe: Can Lieberman Survive?” sums it up. It is now looking like Lieberman may lose his August 8th Connecticut primary showndown with anti-war candidate Ned Lamont, as the latest Quinnipiac Poll shows the challenger inching ahead. If Joementum fails in the primary, Lieberman is prepared to run as an independent, and you can count on a bitterly contested three-way general election.

BRUCE ARENA, FORMER US NATIONAL SOCCER TEAM COACH, is taking over the New York Red Bulls (as predicted here last week); it would be great for Major League Soccer if Arena can make the Red Bulls instant winners and recapture some of the magic the fabled New York Cosmos once brought to New Jersey.

FORMER NEW YORK TIMES EDITOR HOWELL RAINES offered up a great quote in an appearance in Aspen, Colorado when asked about media leaks: “Almost all leakers are lawyers. That’s the bottom line.”

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Copyright © 2006 Jefferson Flanders
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The week (April 21st): Nobody asked me, but…

Washington, D.C. edition

With apologies to New York tabloid legend Jimmy Cannon, nobody asked me, but…

THE NATION'S CAPITAL never looked better (at least not to this observer) in the soft, rosy twilight of mid-April…as the Herblock Foundation honored cartoonist Jeff Danziger in a ceremony at the Library of Congress, and retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor warned of assaults on judicial independence in her witty and warmly-received Herblock Foundation Annual Lecture.

In his brief comments, Danziger mentioned the tragic consequences of the Danish publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed, including the loss of life in riots in the Islamic world. In the West, it's a free speech issue that will not go away. What is troubling are attempts to censor or suppress access to the cartoons in the United States, especially in colleges and universities, where open discussion and debate should be encouraged. College administrators have moved for suppression on the grounds of respecting Islam, but, as First Amendment watchdog Nat Hentoff argues in USA Today, there is no "constitutional right not to be offended."

SEVERAL LONG-TIME REPUBLICANS in Washington openly expressed their concern to me about the meltdown of Katherine Harris's U.S. Senate campaign in Florida, and the potential for a Bill Nelson blow-out victory that would make the Democratic victor and former astronaut a potential 2008 vice presidential pick for Hillary Clinton. This GOP nightmare scenario has Senator Clinton easily holding the 16 blue states and picking up Florida because of Nelson's popularity and campaigning by former President Clinton aimed at African-Americans and the elderly.

THE DARK, TWISTED SIDE of the blogosphere has been on display in recent racist and misogynist Web attacks on blogger Michelle Malkin. The conservative Malkin has become a target for some on the fringe Left in a dispute over recent demonstrations at UC Santa Cruz against military recruiters. To her credit Malkin isn't backing down, and she has posted some of the particularly vile emails she has received (warning: these contain racial and sexual slurs.) What is bizarre is the nature of the name-calling–considering most on the Left denounce racism and sexism. There should be no place in the ongoing American political discussion for those who employ such despicable "hate-speech."

A WINNING POPULIST theme that few candidates seem to want to touch: the outrageous levels of CEO compensation that continue to be forked over to (largely) underperforming business leaders. USA Today notes: "At least a dozen chief executive officers received $100 million or more last year as part of an overall surge in pay that began in the 1990s. In 2005, the median package among the nation's 100 largest companies soared 25% to $17.9 million, dwarfing the 3.1% average gain by typical U.S. workers." Since the boards of directors in question can't, or won't, exercise discipline over compensation, calling for federal curbs would seem logical, and a clear vote-getter–except too many candidates–Democrats and Republicans–are beholden to corporate campaign contributions.

INTRIGUING REPORT by Bill Gertz on CIA open source intelligence efforts in the Washington Times ("CIA mines 'rich' content from blogs") suggests that the revolutionary impact of the Web on the collection and distribution of information is not being slighted. Some, like former CIA agent Robert David Steele, are arguing for Web-enabled "citizen intelligence collectors"–the counterpart of citizen journalists–but too Big Brother for my tastes.

Meanwhile, the political battles over intelligence continue. Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte faces concerns that he has become just another bureaucratic layer, not the solution, to American intelligence (his staff is twice its originally projected size). There's also harsh criticism of the CIA from those, like Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, who argue that director Porter Goss has created a politicized and demoralized organization under the guise of reform. The vital question is whether Goss' house-cleaning removed incompetent managers or targeted anti-Iraq war officials. Considering the open failures of George Tenet's CIA, what new director wouldn't look for a shake-up, new management and new ideas? You also have to be somewhat skeptical about Ignatius' CIA Old Guard sources, who have reason to be defensive about their stewardship of American intelligence both pre- and post- 9/11.

IT'S NO MYTH that America's boys are struggling academically; more proof came this week from the Manhattan Institute, as reported in the New York Times: "Boys Are No Match for Girls in Completing High School." Federal, state and local educational policies need to address this crisis, and the first step is to move beyond denial and admit there's something wrong in the way we are preparing young men for the challenges of a global future.

TWO SENATE RACES to watch with national implications: Virginia and New Jersey. If N.J. Republican Tom Kean, Jr. defeats "incumbent" Bob Menendez (appointed to the seat by his Democratic predecessor, Jon Corzine), and Kean seems to building a lead, watch for his name to surface in 2012 as a national GOP candidate who could compete in Blue states as well as Red.

In Virginia, former Secretary of the Navy James Webb has to survive a Democratic primary (which he should) before taking on incumbent George Allen. While some conservative Republicans see Allen as a potential 2008 alternative to John McCain, Reagan Democrat Webb has a shot at upsetting him. While the genial Allen remains popular, he is positioned as a Bush loyalist on the Iraq war and he has not hidden his boredom with his Senate duties. Most importantly, Allen can't count on the "good old boy" vote against Vietnam veteran and tough-guy Webb. (And when Allen resorts to his favorite football metaphors, count on someone in the Webb campaign to point out that the only University of Virginia record former QB Allen holds is for most interceptions in a game).

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS just won't let go of the idea that Saddam's regime was looking to acquire nuclear capabilities for Iraq, and his considerable scorn is directed this week at Ambassador Joe Wilson of Niger yellowcake fame. Hitchens keeps asking for someone to prove him wrong. So far, no takers.

HEAVILY EMAILED by Washington Post readers this week: Ruth Marcus's version of George W.'s farewell memo to the Bush twins. And why not: it certainly made me laugh out loud!

Copyright © 2006 Jefferson Flanders
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The week (March 24th): Nobody asked me, but…

With a nod to the late, great Jimmy Cannon, nobody asked me, but…

HOW CAN you not admire the way Gonzaga's Adam Morrison plays basketball passionately, like every game is his last? Or the grace of UCLA's Aaron Afflalo and Ryan Hollins in helping Morrison to his feet after the All-American had collapsed at center court, sobbing, devastated by the Zags' last-second NCAA loss to the Bruins?

AS A FIRST AMENDMENT advocate I will defend New York magazine's right to publish "The Ground Zero Grassy Knoll – A New Generation of Conspiracy Theorists are at Work on the Secret History of 9/11," however dubious that decision was. That said, it's bad journalism. Did New York's editors run the piece largely for its shock value? Since there is no "secret history," what is the point? Newsstand sales? What does that say about journalistic and ethical standards at the magazine? Spare me the specious argument that New York published the theories linking Mossad or Jews to 9/11 (outright anti-Semitism on the order of the Protocol of the Elders of Zion) in order to debunk them. It only serves to encourage the witless (vide Charlie Sheen) or the evil.

ONE THING you can say about Tory pols: they ain't mealy-mouthed. MP Michael Gove offered the following in a column in The Times of London: "Recently in the House of Commons I reminded the House that 'Scientology is an evil cult founded by an individual purely in the interests of enriching himself and sustained by those who are either wicked or wayward'." Not much nuance there, I'd say.

INDY MUSIC group October Project has finished its album "Covered," a limited edition compilation of OP songs (by Emil Adler and Julie Flanders) recorded by other artists. You can pre-order the album at OP's website.

FROMA HARROP's column on gambling in the Providence Journal spotlights the sleazy and cynical hypocrisy of governmental efforts at preserving the state monopoly over "gaming." Legislators shamelessly seek to protect government-sanctioned gambling–including state lotteries, slot machines and casino gambling–from competition. The truth is that such gambling is nothing more than a damaging regressive tax targeted at the gullible and the poor.

THERE IS a deep-structured grammar to the love songs of whales, or so say the scientists. Who would have thought humpbacks were so properly romantic?

WOODY ALLEN was having fun lampooning the health nuts in his sci-fi spoof "Sleeper" when a doctor in the year 2173 explains that steak, cream pies and deep fried food "were thought to be unhealthy — precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true." Maybe he was closer to the truth than he realized. Now it looks like eating fish rich in Omega-3 fatty acids may not help your health as scientists once maintained. T-bone steaks, anyone?

And I am not making this stuff up….

Copyright © 2006 Jefferson Flanders
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A Quango Free Speech Fandango

Do you know what a quango is?

I didn’t, until I read Jackie Ashley’s commentary in The Guardian entitled “Livingstone’s suspension is an affront to democracy” with this marvelous subhead– “Londoners voted for a mayor they knew to be outspoken. They don’t need a faceless quango to protect them.”

Quango is a Britishism for quasi-autonomous non-governmental organization (QUANGO). Quangos are nominally independent bodies, developed largely by the Tories as an alternative to official government agencies.

The quango in question, the Adjudication Panel for England, has suspended Livingstone, mayor of London, for what many see as anti-Semitic comments.

Here’s Jackie Ashley’s account of those remarks:

So his now notorious late-night exchange with a reporter from the London Evening Standard, who happened to be Jewish, was pretty unexceptional by Livingstone standards. His relations with the paper are dire and he accused its man of being “a German war criminal” and “behaving just like a concentration camp guard … doing it because you are paid to”. Then he described the reporter’s employer as “a load of scumbags and reactionary bigots”.

Robust, certainly: but does this really warrant his suspension as mayor of London for four weeks, from Wednesday? Who, you may want to know, has the power to suspend someone with a huge democratic mandate anyway?

Ashley complains that it is anti-democratic for this three-person quango to discipline Livingstone. She also defends him against the suggestion of anti-Semitism:

You may or may not agree with Ken’s views on the Middle East, but to move from his hostility to the actions of the state of Israel to suggest that he behaved in an anti-semitic way is gross. He has made clear, on these pages and elsewhere, the distinction between his loathing of the Holocaust and his admiration for the Jewish people, on the one hand, and his anger about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, on the other. He has worked with the Board of Deputies of British Jews against the National Front. His hatred of the Mail group is connected to its pre-war admiration for the Nazis. He has to be allowed his strong views.

As a free speech advocate, I couldn’t agree more with Ashley’s call that Livingstone (dubbed “Red Ken” for his hard left politics) should “be allowed his strong views,” even when, as in this case, they are needlessly insensitive and hurtful.

The response to speech we don’t like, should be…more speech, to borrow from Justice Brandeis. Unfortunately many in the European Union lean towards the “social responsibility” school, which inevitably leads to legislation banning “hate speech” and, as can be seen in the Livingstone situation, government oversight of political discourse. Not good. In the United States, most attempts at enforcing politically correct speech have occurred on college campuses–and are increasingly being resisted.

Let’s agree with Ashley that Livingstone should be able to trumpet his often bizarre and provocative views without fear of removal from office or governmental reprisal, but also without accepting her notion that he is free from anti-Semitic inclinations.

This is man, after all, who is on record as arguing that Britain’s treatment of the Irish was worse than Hitler’s of the Jews; who gave Sheikh Yusuf al Qaradawi (an Egyptian cleric banned from the U.S. because of his advocacy of violence) a warm welcome to London; and who begins tossing around the word “Zionist” whenever he discusses Israel and the Palestinians. Note well: Livingstone’s most objectionable comments to the London Evening Standard reporter came after the reporter had identified himself as Jewish.

(The Anti-Defamation League has few doubts about “Livingstone’s record”).

At best, Livingstone is a boor. At worst, he is infected with the virus of anti-Semitism, despite his recent claims that his maternal grandmother may be Jewish. The sunshine of free speech is the best disinfectant.

Copyright © 2006 Jefferson Flanders
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